Indiana Tax Court denies motion to dismiss Assessor’s property tax appeal on procedural grounds

Indiana Tax Court denies motion to dismiss Assessor’s property tax appeal on procedural grounds

In Marion County Assessor v. Stutz Business Center, LLC (January 11, 2019), Owner fell short in its effort to cut short an appeal by a County Assessor challenging the Owner’s voluntary withdrawal of its 2012 to 2014 real property tax appeals. Owner withdrew its appeals five days before the scheduled administrative hearing before the Indiana Board of Tax Review. Assessor objected, but the Indiana Board allowed the withdrawals, explaining that decisions precluding voluntary withdrawals are “rare” and “are meant for extraordinary, rather than routine, circumstances and apply where precluding voluntary withdrawal is necessary to prevent manifest unfairness.” The Assessor had failed to show “the existence of those extreme circumstances.”

Assessor timely filed his petition to the Tax Court. But the Assessor served a summons on the clerk a day after the window for filing a petition closed. In addition, Assessor served a copy of the petition on Owner’s counsel, not the Owner. Owner claimed these were procedural errors that warranted dismissal of the Assessor’s appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

To timely initiate an original tax appeal, the Tax Court’s rules – unlike the trial rules governing other civil actions – do not require submission of the appropriate process papers with the clerk.

Assessor claimed that the trial rules permitted him to serve his petition on Owner’s counsel, as agents for the Owner. The Court, however, noted that Assessor’s failure to serve Owner was a “technical failure to comply with the trial rules.” Nevertheless, the Court concluded that Owner was not harmed or prejudiced by Assessor’s service of the petition, which was reasonably calculated to inform Owner of the appeal. Here, Owner’s counsel had represented it for more than two years at the administrative level, and there was no reason for Assessor to think they would not continue to do so on appeal to the Tax Court. There was no indication that counsel did not accept service, and there was no indication that Owner was not, in fact, informed of the appeal. Assessor “substantially complied with the rules for establishing effective service.”

Owner’s motion to dismiss was denied.

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